Chelsea vs. Manchester United: 6 Things We Learned

Terry CarrollContributor IIIOctober 28, 2012

Chelsea vs. Manchester United: 6 Things We Learned

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    Chelsea vs. Manchester United today was the best match of the season so far. There was plenty to learn, especially for referee Mark Clattenburg and the FA.

    A growing number of people are absolutely fed up with what FIFA calls "simulation." Referees are clearly under pressure to deal with it, because apart from the obscene money factors, this is killing the game.

    Many bemoan all the foreign players coming into the game because they are squeezing homegrown players out. Yes, they have brought great flair and skill to the Premier League, but they've also brought the ugly face of cheating.

    It is suspected that in some countries abroad, players are told to take every advantage and also coached as to how to get an unfair decision.

    FIFA wants to keep the game unsullied by video technology and rely on the "human factor," but today, Chelsea fans would have every right to feel aggrieved because of decisions that could have been resolved by a second look.

    OK, so in rugby, Rugby League and cricket, replays are helping to bring fairness to decisions, but football is a much faster game than any of those. It is a game based on momentum.

    For example, when Chelsea scored their second goal today they had the momentum and could have gone on to win the match, having been 2-0 down.

    So you can't keep stopping the game to check whether somebody dived. That would kill spectator interest faster than the simulation itself.

    But something has to be done. Surely, a "dodgy dives" panel on a Monday, with an automatic three-match ban if a dive is proven would sort the matter out in less than a month.

    Two days ago, we predicted a 3-2 United win, with the following teams on the pitch. 

    Chelsea

    Cech

    Ivanovich Luiz Cahill Cole

    Ramires Obi

    Oscar Hazard Mata

    Torres

     

    Manchester United

    De Gea

    Rafael Ferdinand Evans Evra

    Carrick Anderson or Cleverley

    Valencia Rooney Young

    Van Persie

     

    Nobody could have predicted how the result would come about. What they could safely have expected, however, was an exciting game with loads of quality football.

    Anyone who thought that this would be a cagey affair doesn't understand the Premier League. With United having been top dogs for much of Sir Alex's reign and Chelsea nicking the Champions League last season, this match was all about bragging rights. Both sets of fans have a case.

    We didn't learn much that we didn't already know or suspect, but there were some standout points.

Manchester United Were Lucky

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    There are more cliches in football than you can shake a stick at. Great players and teams make their own luck. Great teams win ugly.

    It is so sad after an enthralling match that the referee is the main talking point once again, and once again, it was Mark Clattenburg getting a key decision wrong. 

    Fernando Torres was probably yellow carded as much because of his reputation as anything. Watching the incident of his second yellow card over and over from the referee's point of view, you can see why he missed the contact by Evans and also how he can clearly see what looks like a clumsy dive.

    However, Torres was probably lucky to be on the pitch anyhow after a dreadful lunge with his foot into the throat of Tom Cleverley, for which he got only a yellow card.

    There was nothing wrong with Ivanovic's sending-off because whether intentionally or accidentally, he stopped Ashley Young's forward run. The referee consulted with his assistant, who was in line with the incident and was then clear in his decision. United then had the momentum.

    In the event, the biggest decision turned out to be what should have been an offside against Chicharito for the winning goal. But that's the referee's assistant's decision, not the referees.

    The assistant didn't have a clear view, but surely, this is the one exception that should be made for video technology. In both Rugby Union and Rugby League, the referee can use video replay to answer the question "can I award a try?" 

    The footballing equivalent would have been "can I award a goal?"

    In the case of Luis Suarez's disallowed goal at Everton, the answer would have been yes, and for Chicharito's winner, it would be no. Chelsea would still be four points clear of United, and Liverpool would be on the way back towards the top.

    But to suggest that United didn't deserve to win this match is pure hypothesis. Chelsea were down to 10 men and had changed to a more defensive formation, taking off their most creative player.

    United's history is one of driving forward to the very end. Who is to say they wouldn't have scored a legitimate winner rather than coasting to the finishing line on their questionable winner?

Manchester United Should Stick to Their Traditional Style

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    Not for every match, but Sir Alex's tinkering with tactics hasn't been an unqualified success.

    For 60 years or more, people have watched United for the way they play football: an uncompromising attempt to win every match, based on out and out attacking football.

    To play this way, you have to be strong in defence as well. Because of injuries, they are creaking at the back. Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra aren't getting any younger; Jonny Evans was pressed into service barely back from injury. They need Smalling and Jones back for relief and their captain for leadership.

    United aren't just an attacking team, however. They have showed in Europe for years that they can also counter-attack at pace and with precision.

    And so, it was that Chelsea found themselves 2-0 down in less than 15 minutes. The home team had the lion's share of possession, but United had started to look like they could score at will. 

    So, full credit to Chelsea that they got themselves back into the game. After the first goal, they had United on the back foot. That was nothing to do with the tactics and they were doing nothing wrong. It was just that they had been driven back into their own penalty area rather than the high line they had taken earlier.

    There were two teams in this match committed to getting a win. No nonsense about both being prepared to settle for a draw. Once City had beaten Swansea, it was game on and no-holds barred. That suited Chelsea's new style, but it also suited the way United have played for years. 

Sir Alex Still Has the Magic Touch

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    It could be said that Sir Alex has made some errors of judgement recently. It is to the credit of the man that he has admitted to those errors, like getting things wrong in the first half against Tottenham. He rectified that and nearly came away with a result.

    He has wrestled with the possible need for change. Alright, he has constructed a squad that is built on pace, flair and technical skill in depth with attackers who can interchange and make it difficult for stolid defences.

    But he's also seen teams like Liverpool, Swansea, Wigan and Chelsea move to a different style of football. He and Rene Meulenstein have thought about this. They have come up with a "diamond" formation and 4-2-3-1 as variants to combat the new styles and still get a result.

    Nowhere was this more clear than in the matches against Newcastle and Braga. The Geordies were stunned by a formation that Pardew clearly couldn't have planned for, and they were basically thrashed. 

    But when Ferguson tried to play the diamond against Braga, it backfired badly and they were 2-0 down in 20 minutes, compounded by the daft experiment of yet again playing Carrick in the back four.

    There again, and helped by Kagawa's injury, Sir Alex showed his nous and experience. Where a Brendan Rodgers might have stubbornly stuck to the plot, the Scot changed shape and United ended up with a comfortable win.

    Of course today, he was desperate to get his team into the dressing room unscathed as Chelsea mounted wave after wave of attack. He didn't manage it, and the Blues took momentum into halftime that carried them through to an equaliser in 53 minutes.

    Even allowing for the double sending off, the match still had to be won. He had the courage to replace Rooney with Giggs, just in case Clattenburg was tempted to "even up" with a second yellow card.

    But the masterstroke was to bring on Chicharito. He has pace, he is a natural finisher and, like last year in the astonishing three goal come-back, he delivered.

    Whatever the feelings and opinions about the result and the circumstances, Sir Alex still has that magic touch to drag a result out of the fire when the chips are down. 

The Title Race Is Wide Open

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    Right now, Sir Alex is probably the most confident of all the top managers in the Premier League.

    Once again, he has had an injury crisis in defence, but he's got Chris Smalling and Phil Jones available for the Arsenal match next weekend. United may have lost two matches they didn't expect to lose, but they are one point off the top with half a dozen easier matches to come after Wenger's side visits.

    Chelsea have lost their first match of the season, but now they're back in the pack with the other two fancied teams. Arsenal keep scraping results and Tottenham are on a roll.

    For a few years, we have said "this could be the most open season ever."

    This season, it looks like coming true. You get the feeling that most teams could beat most other teams on the right day.

    It will be interesting to see how Chelsea and City react if they don't reach the knockout stages of the Champions' League. They both had disappointing results this week, and City were unconvincing against Swansea.

    The Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney combination has come together nicely, even if the ex-Evertonian was a bit below par today.

    Sir Alex now has four or five tactical formations he can use and a squad that has strength in depth that will soon have a fully-fit defence.

    Game on!

Chelsea Have the Makings of Champions

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    Let's be honest here. The football Chelsea played and the way they drove themselves back to 2-2 in the absence of their inspirational captain made a statement.

    A couple of days ago, we reviewed the threat of Mata and Hazard, but actually, it is the combination of them and Oscar that is the magic at the core of the Chelsea team.

    However, and this is a big however, they don't have the strength in depth that United have, or even that of Manchester City

    The standout aspect of this is the dearth of strikers. 

    United have four: Van Persie, Rooney, Chicharito, Welbeck, with genuine young talent in reserve.

    City have four: Aguero, Balotelli, Tevez, Dzeko.

    Chelsea have one and a half: Torres (who is a shadow of his Liverpool self), Sturridge.

    But Chelsea have a style and a presence which, if they can keep the squad fit, has a real shot at the title this year. If they add another striker in January, watch out.

Robin Van Persie and Juan Mata Are Truly World Class

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    Of all the decisions he's made in a long and illustrious career, buying Robin Van Persie might just be the best. 

    To spend £24 million on a 29-year-old who has had injury problems in the past looked like a massive gamble at the time, but now looks like genius.

    Last season, it could have been contended that RVP was one of the top three strikers in the world. This season, under Ferguson and with the service he is getting from United's attacking armoury, he has, if it is at all possible, gotten even better.

    He is the Eric Cantona signing of the 2010s.

    And because we believe in being objective and fair, it must be said that Juan Mata is probably the best signing Chelsea have made in a decade.

    How on earth can this guy not get a regular place for Spain? One thing is for sure: When Xavi or Iniesta step aside, Juan Mata can step onto that stage and not look out of place, adding pace as well as technical skill.

    And as for Chelsea, if they can keep him for the rest of his career, they can build their new dynasty around him.

    This is a great time to be alive and watching Premier League football. We are blessed.

    RVP and Juan Mata are both truly world-class, as they showed today and every week.